Could going meat and dairy free put you at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis?
We explore the effect of going plant-based on your bones.
Some believe that vegan or vegetarian diets can be restrictive; being pro-plant has to have some pitfalls, right?
Without proper nutritional balance, bones can suffer, leading to reduced bone mineral density and increased incidence of fractures. But how much of an effect does cutting out cow and saying bye to bacon really have?
Research shows that, as long as calcium and vitamin D intake are adequate, vegans and vegetarians are no more at risk of reduced bone mineral density than their meat and dairy-eating counterparts.¹
Balanced plant-based diets tend to have more liberal amounts of important micronutrients for bone health, such as vitamins C and K, carotenoids, potassium and magnesium.² All of these nutrients are used in the body to promote bone growth and prevent bone loss.³
When it comes to bone health, calcium is key.
Ninety-nine percent of calcium is stored in the bones, where it provides skeletal strength and structure. Getting enough calcium in your diet is therefore essential for normal bone growth and development, with many studies reporting that a calcium-rich diet can increase bone density and reduce risk of fractures.⁴
When thinking about sources of calcium, most people only consider milk and other dairy products. But for those choosing to go sans-cow, plenty of calcium can be found in:
The NHS recommends most adults aged 19 to 64 need 700mg of calcium per day.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in bone health. It helps with the absorption of calcium from food in the intestine, ensures correct renewal of bone and helps to keep muscles strong to reduce fall risk.⁶
Good sources of vitamin D for vegans include:
Most people can make all the vitamin D they need by spending 10 to 20 minutes a day outside in the sun between March and September.⁷ During the winter months, the UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that everyone, not just vegans and vegetarians, considers a daily vitamin D supplement.⁸ This is because it’s difficult to get enough from diet alone.
But this doesn’t mean you should neglect vitamin D from your diet entirely. Foods fortified with vitamin D such as plant-based spreads, cereals and soya milk can form part of a healthy balanced diet.
If you are considering a meat-free diet, or even if you are a vegan veteran, The Vegan Society recommends a bit of forward planning to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
Going all-in with veganism isn’t realistic for everyone. You may have specific dietary needs, find overhauling your diet overwhelming or have a lack of availability of vegan choices near you.
Part-time veganism, or flexitarianism, can be a viable option for many. You may want to eat plant-based at home but have more flexibility when out and about, or opt for vegan choices during the week and save your meat and dairy for the weekends. This way you can still experience more plant-based food without having to completely remodel your diet and lifestyle.
In any case, create a checklist for your weekly meal plan that includes:
With the right considerations, a vegan diet, alongside an active, healthy lifestyle, can support bone health in people of all ages.